I was quite a fan of Brite's earlier incarnation as a Gothic horror writer -- Lost Souls, Drawing Blood et cetera -- though I confess that Exquisite Corpse was rather too Grand Guignol for me, with its cannibal recipes and gruesomely precise insight into the mind of a serial killer. But someone told me that Liquor (and the sequels, currently on order from Amazon) are quite different, and that I'd like them.
Right on both counts: oh, there's still that loving attention to detail, but now it's turned to recipes of the more mundane sort (if there's anything mundane about Camembert ice-cream served in a moulded chocolate death-mask of Napoleon). The plot of Liquor, now I come to think of it, isn't that exciting. Two young New Orleans chefs, Rickey and G-man, decide they've had enough of working for other people; decide to open their own restaurant, in which every recipe will be based on alcohol -- it wouldn't work anywhere else but in New Orleans it's the perfect draw -- and get backing from a famous chef who's got some useful business contacts; there are some trust issues, and some set-backs; there's a happy ending.
All well and good. But Poppy Brite has a knack for the telling detail, and she can write, and she blends and serves her characters up very nicely. Rickey and G-man are a couple (this is only made very gradually clear: it's not that sort of book) but more to the point they're friends, just different enough to work well together without blandness. The focus is very much on them and their cooking, and the slow process of opening a restaurant. Brite's worked in kitchens, and her husband's a chef: this hands-on experience shows in the details, but doesn't overwhelm the story. The supporting cast -- whiny neighbours, Rickey's cocaine-fuelled ex-boss, respected bar-owner Anthony Bonvillano (who may or may not be based on Anthony Bourdain) -- are all eccentric and inconsistent enough to have been drawn from life: they impart a richness to the novel that makes it a joy to read.
It felt like a crime to read this while eating Tesco's ready meals, it really did. Must make an effort when Prime turns up, and do some proper cooking ...